John F. Russell: Gary Crawford returns to the sport that gave him so much

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— Former Steamboat Springs resident Gary Crawford just landed his dream job last week, but he probably never thought that he would find it in the sunny state of Florida, thousands of miles from the closest ski jump.

USA Ski Jumping named Crawford its director of sports development last week, with his energy focused on ski jumping and Nordic combined development in the United States.

John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

The task is nothing new for Gary, who coached at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for years. As a coach of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Gary identified and guided some of our town’s best athletes to Olympic glory, including Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick, Bryan Fletcher, Taylor Fletcher, Brett Camerota, Eric Camerota, Randy Weber, Brendan Doran, Alan Alborn, Matt Dayton and Clint Jones.

Now, Crawford will have a chance to identify top athletes and encourage them to pursue their goals in Nordic combined. But he will not just be looking at athletes from Steamboat Springs, he will be searching the nation for the stars of tomorrow.

It’s something he couldn’t imagine doing last September when he left his position at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, left his friends and athletes and left the town that he had called home his entire life.

Nobody could blame him for leaving town, and nobody could question his reasons for leaving. But we all miss his friendly small-town mannerisms, and his efforts to teach our children how to fly in the thin Colorado air.

Crawford, along with his wife, Kim, made the decision to move to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where Kim’s family lives. Kim has battled a series of autoimmune diseases and fibromyalgia the past several years, and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic advised her that moving to a warmer location at sea level would help improve her condition.

The good news is that the move was a success.

Kim still faces many daily challenges, but she is feeling better and enjoying a higher quality of life. In Steamboat, she had been in constant pain and had to treat her condition every day with intravenous therapy.

These days, she still uses IV therapy, but instead of measuring the time between treatments in days, it’s months. She is able to take walks and has been able to put on about 25 pounds — gaining weight was something she couldn’t do in Steamboat Springs.

That’s what Kim and Gary were hoping for when they left, which is great. But the downside was that Gary had to leave the sport that took him to the Olympics as a competitor before he turned to coaching, and one that had been part of his life since he was a child.

Gary was willing to give that up so that his wife could have a better quality of life, but that changed when he learned about the job with USA Ski Jumping. He applied, interviewed and was selected from 12 applicants.

“I never really thought I would get a chance like this,” Gary said. “This is a chance to give back to a sport that gave so much to me, and I will be able to stay in Florida.”

He plans on visiting clubs across the country, and he will be on hand for many of the sport's biggest events. But he also will be able to stay at home to care for Kim, communicating with athletes by the Internet.

So despite the fact that Gary still will call the warm climate of Florida home, we all can celebrate that one of Nordic combined's good guys is back in the fold.

It’s hard to find dedicated guys like Gary, and there are very few people in the world that know or care as much about the sport of ski jumping and Nordic combined.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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